No need to assess Mollem projects’ cumulative impact: Goa minister
Goa Minister for Environment Nilesh Cabral has said that there is no provision to cumulatively assess the potentially damaging effects of the three linear infrastructure projects that are cutting through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park as the projects are “independent” in nature.
Replying to a question by legislator Rohan Khaunte, Cabral also said that there was no question of reviewing the projects because the projects were being proposed and admitted “by following all rules and guidelines of [the] Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.”
“There is no provision to assess the cumulative impact of the projects, as they are independent in nature and proposed by different user Agencies at different time intervals,” Cabral said in his reply before the Goa Legislative Assembly.
Cabral’s reply comes even as environmentalists and activists, including the independent non-official expert members of the Goa State Wildlife Board, demanded that the impact of the projects be cumulatively assessed rather than individually owing to the concurrent execution.
In a letter to the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Supreme Court, the expert members of the Wildlife Board had demanded that the Board review the clearances to the projects since they were dubiously granted clearance without studying the cumulative impact of the projects.
“Wildlife clearance was sought for every individual project to dilute the figurative requirement of diversion of forest within the same protected area network. Thus, the impact of these projects, especially the cumulative impact on biodiversity does not find mention. The State Board for Wildlife needs to demand an assessment of the cumulative impact of these linear developments impacting the entire state,” the members had written in their letter to the CEC.
“The three proposed linear projects will further fragment the already fragmented area, most of which is pristine and virgin in nature. The State Board for Wildlife needs to demand an assessment of the cumulative impact of these linear developments impacting the entire State,” the members had said.
In reply to a separate question asked by Khaunte, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant, who holds the forest portfolio, has said that the projects were being implemented by following “the complete procedure as prescribed by the MoEF&CC while obtaining the forest clearance and wildlife clearance.”
The proposed projects now only need a Forest Clearance under FCA, 1980 which is yet to be realised.
“All three proposals for diversion of forest area for non-forestry purposes as per the provisions of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 are still under process. There is no land acquisition in the protected area,” Sawant said.
The standing committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests in April last year granted its approval to the diversion of forest land from notified wildlife sanctuaries in Mollem along Goa’s eastern frontier with Karnataka for three projects -- the doubling of an existing railway line between Hubli in Karnataka and Vasco da Gama in Goa, the expansion of the national highway 4A between Belgaum in north Karnataka and Goa and a power line. The approvals were met with protests demanding that the projects be scrapped for environmental reasons and because it is believed that the completion of the projects will facilitate the transport of more coal.
These clearances have been challenged before the Bombay high court and the Central Empowered Committee on grounds that they have been cleared in haste and threaten the rich biodiversity of the region.